Kragthorpe: Ute staff shakeup signals Whittingham’s last stand
College football • Both Utah coach and his new offensive coordinator had better deliver
Published: December 20, 2013 10:28PM
Updated: December 27, 2013 05:12PM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

Kyle Whittingham is giving himself one last chance.

If Whittingham’s future as Utah’s football coach was not already the story line for 2014, his latest shakeup of the offensive staff definitely makes it so.

Nobody ever said Whittingham was easy to work for, and his latest move cements that reputation.

By hiring former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen as offensive coordinator and demoting Brian Johnson and — more significantly — Dennis Erickson, Whittingham is acting desperately, boldly or some combination of those descriptions. What’s clear is that he’d better be right, which is exactly what everybody thought about Erickson’s arrival last winter.

Now, how Erickson would stay at Utah with a new job description — seriously, running backs coach? — is beyond my comprehension. Utah’s staff would be the only one in college football history that included three of its former play-callers, with Aaron Roderick, Johnson and Erickson. But that’s another issue. The big question is how Christensen will do, in the wake of attempts by Dave Schramm, Roderick, Norm Chow, Johnson and Erickson to satisfy Whittingham.

I’ll credit Whittingham with regarding consecutive 5-7 records as unacceptable, but how ruthless is this management style? He’s making BYU’s rehiring of offensive coordinator Robert Anae seem rather pedestrian.

And to think that Ute fans were dissatisfied with Andy Ludwig, who somehow lasted four seasons under Whittingham’s reign. Counting Ludwig’s work in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, the Utes will have had seven play-callers in 78 games, as of the 2014 opener vs. Idaho State.

Coincidentally enough, ISU is where Whittingham and Christensen (and Ludwig) first worked together. Christensen eventually became a highly regarded offensive coordinator at Missouri, building the credentials that landed him the Wyoming job.

He had intermittent success in Laramie, earning a new contract with a $1.2 million salary. But he was fired after the Cowboys’ 2013 season ended with a 35-7 loss at Utah State on Nov. 30.

The Utes are getting a coach whose offense posted seven points and 190 total yards against the Aggies, and who embarrassed himself and his program with a tirade directed at Air Force coach Troy Calhoun after a 2012 game.

All of that background will be forgotten if Christensen delivers a respectable product at Utah, and so will Whittingham’s previous attempts to get the offense right. If not, they’ll be both be out of jobs.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt